theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.
De Zerbi lifting Brighton to new heights
Roberto De Zerbi has, rightfully, earned widespread praise for his outstanding impact since taking over at Brighton & Hove Albion. The Italian has built on Graham Potter’s foundations, lifting the soaring Seagulls to another level with a sumptuous style of play that’s the envy of nearly every fan base in England.
And while Saturday’s 6-0 destruction of Wolverhampton Wanderers won’t go down as the most celebrated result of the campaign – even if it is their biggest-ever top-flight win to date – it speaks to how De Zerbi’s philosophy has permeated the entire club. Brighton made a handful of lineup changes for the contest, leaving influential starters like Alexis Mac Allister, Moises Caicedo, Kaoru Mitoma, and Robert Sanchez on the bench to begin the match. And yet, even without arguably their three best players in the lineup, there was no obvious drop-off in performance. Yes, some of that was the result of Wolves’ dreadful showing, as the visitors contributed to their downfall with several woeful defensive errors. But it’s a testament to De Zerbi that the core tenets of his entertaining tactics remain in place regardless of who’s on the pitch for Brighton. Everyone has bought in, and everyone gets a chance to shine. Left-back Pervis Estupinan, for instance, got a clean break through on goal late in the contest. A rising tide lifts all boats.
That could be vital in helping the club recruit new talent ahead of a potential European campaign next season; Brighton have reportedly already struck a deal to sign Watford star Joao Pedro. It could also help convince some of the current ascendant talents to stick around for another season. Whether it’s Conference League, Europa League, or potentially even Champions League action in 2023-24, the entire Brighton squad will get continued opportunities to thrive in De Zerbi’s fluid system.
Why not keep the good times going?
Brighton will lose some players this summer. That’s just the reality of the football ecosystem. But Saturday’s emphatic triumph was the latest sign that no matter who’s on the pitch, this team is in excellent hands.
“The most important is not to lose our DNA and style. We deserve to achieve our target, Europe, but we shall see,” De Zerbi said after the match. He added: “I am lucky to work with these players.”
The feeling is undoubtedly mutual.
Hodgson an inspired appointment
Roy Hodgson still has the magic touch.
When Crystal Palace coaxed the 75-year-old out of his unofficial retirement to replace Patrick Vieira last month, relegation was a very legitimate concern. Palace were winless in 12 matches, hadn’t recorded a single shot on target in three games – an alarming, almost unbelievable stat – and looked entirely toothless despite boasting an eclectic collection of attacking talent.
Hodgson turned things around immediately.
Under the respected manager’s tutelage, Palace have won four of their six games, hitting the mystical 40-point plateau that is so often associated with safety following Saturday’s entertaining 4-3 victory over West Ham United.
“The sword has been removed from my head, it’s been removed from the players’ heads,” Hodgson said of the club’s vanquished relegation fears.
With Palace 11 points clear of the relegation zone, the job is all but done. Incredibly, they’ve leapfrogged London rivals Chelsea in the table.
It was always inconceivable that a group including the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze, and Michael Olise could be so limp in attack. Having all looked jaded near the end of Vieira’s reign, they appear reinvigorated under Hodgson. Zaha and Eze both scored in the seven-goal thriller at Selhurst Park on Saturday, while Olise notched an assist and played a decisive role in creating another of his team’s four goals.
“We’re thriving under Roy – we’re creative and positive when we have the ball,” Eze told BT Sport.
It seems so simple, but Hodgson has put his best players in a position to succeed, and the results have followed. There’s a reason he’s occupied a permanent place on the Rolodex for so many years.
Wolves not out of the woods just yet
Sitting eight points clear of the drop zone after Saturday’s slate, Wolves should be safe. But the manner in which they completely crumbled in the 6-0 hammering against Brighton is reason for concern for manager Julen Lopetegui, who watched parts of the defeat with his head in his hands as his players made one boneheaded error after another. Wolves likely need just one win from their last four games to secure safety, but the schedule isn’t exactly forgiving. Three of those fixtures are against teams within the top six – Aston Villa, Manchester United, and Arsenal. The other contest, against a desperate Everton side trying to avoid the drop, will be a battle, too. Coming off their largest top-flight defeat since 1968, pressure will mount considerably if Wolves can’t hit the 40-point plateau ahead of their season finale versus the Gunners.
Will set pieces save West Ham?
Speaking of not being safe … West Ham, who still have the Europa Conference League to contend with, sit perilously close to the relegation zone after Saturday’s loss against Crystal Palace. “The thing I pride myself on is that my teams are normally pretty hard to beat,” David Moyes said afterward. “Today, we weren’t hard to beat, and we weren’t hard to play against. That’s probably the most galling bit for me.” It doesn’t get any easier. Their next two games are against the two Manchester clubs. Not ideal. Nor is the Hammers’ continued reliance on set pieces to create offense. All three of West Ham’s goals against Palace came from corner kicks; they’ve scored five times from corners in their last six league games. Having that edge is great, especially when the margins between relegation and survival are razor-thin, but West Ham look incapable of threatening the opposition from open play. That’s not a viable path to salvation.
Soft goal could come back to sink Forest
When the final whistle goes on the 2022-23 season, Nottingham Forest may very well look back on Saturday’s crippling loss as the moment their Premier League status truly slipped away. Leading 1-0 against Brentford and edging toward three enormous points, Forest conceded two late goals, including a 94th-minute tally to Josh Dasilva, en route to a potentially backbreaking defeat. Brentford’s equalizer, a free-kick from Ivan Toney, was a nightmarish tally to concede in such a vital moment. Toney’s effort went directly through the defensive wall – an absolute no-no – and eluded Keylor Navas, who, despite not getting protection from his barricade, would probably like a mulligan after getting his outstretched arms on the shot. That soft goal set the stage for Dasilva’s winner. “It’s a tough one to take,” Steve Cooper admitted. The tiniest details can make the biggest difference.
Stat of the day
Whenever Brentford are involved, expect drama right up until the last minute.
Tweet of the day
Wolves didn’t have the “dawg” inside them Saturday. Just the dog.